Malachite Gemstones - Fine green gems!
Many people are fascinated by green gemstones, and the reason for this may be due to the fact that green is the most abundant color on the planet, and it is easy on the eyes. It is calming, and gives the viewer a feeling of serenity. Malachite, is yet another green gemstone, which is much sought-after by people who love green gemstones. The stone is named after the Greek word for mallow, Molochites; Mallow is a very spicy and aromatic green herb. The dark and light bands of green color, which flow across the stone are unique, thereby making it one of the gemstones which are easy to identify.
Malachite has a long history which can be traced back to 4000 BC. It was used as jewelry by the civilizations of the day, especially in Egypt, and during the Bronze Age, it was crushed and the powder used as a green pigment for artistic purposes. For the cultures which believed in black magic and sorcery, Malachite was worn as a protective charm to ward off any spells that may be directed at them maliciously. There are people who believed that Malachite was able to warn the wearer about any impending danger, thereby giving further protection; it was also believed to give energy and bring harmony to the life of the wearer.
The Tsar of Russia, Alexander II, was intrigued by this marvelous green gemstone, and in the year 1818, he gave instruction to miners in the Ural Mountain regions to look for this mineral. The mineral that was mined at that time was used to create the marvelous gemstone pillars found and the St Isaac’s Cathedral which is located in St Petersburg in Russia.
Malachite is a very soft mineral and has a hardness of only 3.5 to 4 on the Mohs scale. That said, it is only cut using the Cabochon cut, and then secured into the base setting using a bezel. Malachite can be found in many places spread all over the world, and some of the most notable are the Ural Mountains of Russia, Mexico, Namibia, and Australia.
Malachite is a secondary extract, with copper carbonate blue mineral called Azurite being the primary one; oddly enough, Malachite is commonly found in the presence of Azurite, and where the two have mixed to form a single crystal, it is called Azurmalachite. Another oddity is the fact that Malachite is found in the presence of copper, and was mined together with the metal. This is mineral that has a very interesting profile, or historic profile.
The story of Malachite
At the end of the end of the 19th Century, at various sites around the copper mines of Bisbee, Arizona, miners stumbled upon huge cavernous underground spaces, which had malachite that was deposited in thicknesses reaching up to four feet. They caverns had roofs which had stalactites which were made of the green and patterned gemstone. However, what happed was what could only be described as a nightmare, by any individual who loves gemstones. At the time, the owners of the mines were only interested in the copper that could be extracted from the mines, and had no need for the Malachite. The mineral was crushed and processed in order to collect the copper and the Malachite went to waste. So strong was the desire for the copper to be extracted that anyone who was found hiding any malachite was fired on the spot. According to John Garsow, of New Era Minerals situated in Grass Valley California, there was nothing that anyone could do to stop the wastage of the precious mineral and the copper mining owners were only driven by the urge to get to the copper.
This is the action that was taken in any mine where malachite was found, except in one region of the world. In Tsarist Russia, the Tsar, Alexander II, had a notable liking for the gemstone, and it could be found adorning walls, and place-settings; it was truly prized in this region and it was mined on its own merit. In all other places, the story of malachite was very different and if you know about the practices that went on in the Dodge Phelps U.S. and Anaconda mines, then you will know that it was a very sad story indeed.
That said, from the turn of the last Century, malachite began to be exploited economically, and it was used by craftsmen to make intricate and ornate items such as bowls and boxed jewel cases. Most of the items fashioned out of malachite required hundreds of hours of crafting, and they had delicate pieces inlaid; the inlays would be made of thousands of slivers of malachite, and this is the reason why they took so long to make. You can imagine how long it took to make a table top, made of tiny slivers of this minerals; back breaking work it was.
In an effort to elevate the status of malachite and make it a darling to gemstone lovers, a new form of craftsmanship, called Intarsia was designed. This involved the use of small pieces of different minerals, which had been cut so that they fit snugly together, to make different decorative items; this made both buyers and designers to get interested in this mineral. The largest contributors to Intarsia are Nicolai Medvedev and Jim Kaufman, who are considered masters in this form of art and are celebrated in the mineral and gem world, made fantastic pendants and chests, using malachite as an inlay in custom jewelry designed by manufacturers and designers from all over the world.
Today, Malachite has started to get the attention that it deserves from jewelers and buyers alike, and this sudden increase in demand has had a drastic effect on the supply of the mineral. According to a gem dealer from Atlanta, called Tim Roark, there is news coming from Zaire, which is the largest producer of malachite today, saying that the top grade of the mineral is not available. Tim is one of the first people who started trading in malachite as a gemstone. So what could be behind this sudden drop in supply? Read on.
The situation in Africa
It was a misnomer for people to think that malachite deposits could only be found where copper was being mined. As mentioned before, the name comes from the Greek word for mallow, which is a dark green colored herb. In the book, “The Gemstones of North America”, written by John Sinkanka, this form of copper carbonate, which was found next to a fellow carbonate having an indigo-blue color called Azurite, and often found in certain copper deposits which were oxidized to a certain level, were formed by water which had seeped down through the earth’s strata, and resulting in copper sulfides and accessory minerals to be formed. The copper sulfides were then turned into a number of new species of which malachite is a member. However, it is not all deposits of malachite that can be economically exploited to get the mineral in quantities and qualities that would qualify it for use in the making of jewelry, artistic objects and furniture.
That said, although Malachite is produced in significant amounts in other parts of the world, such as Chile, France, Russia, Arizona and Utah, the main producer of this mineral is Africa. The malachite that comes from the continent is of high quality and is in high demand from artisans of artistic items and furniture and also jewelers. One area, which is also a copper belt, is prominent in the production of malachite, and this is found in the belt that is in a part of Zambia, which was formerly known as Rhodesia, and runs through into a part of the neighboring Zaire, or Congo. For most of the 20th Century, this is the region that has produced the highest amount of high-grade malachite. The malachite that is mined in this area had to be fashioned locally since the government of Zaire had forbidden the exportation of raw malachite.
One thing that is notable is the fact that the individual who can be thanked for the massive production of malachite from Africa is Cecil Rhodes, after whom the nation of Rhodesia was named. In 1888, he founded the De Beers Diamond Company, which had a monopoly over the diamonds that were found in this nation. At the turn of the 19th Century, Cecil Rhodes was the then administrator of the region for the British government, and he managed to get concessions that allowed him to economically exploit the massive copper deposits that were found in Belgian Congo. By 1910, led by an engineering geologist known as Robert Williams, the team that was formed by Cecil Rhodes had already built a railroad which was supposed to take coal to the copper mines so the metal could be smelted from the ore. The railroad went through the Kolwezi regions, and here, there was open pit mining operations going on.
Now, what has most dealers are worried about is the fact that most of the 30 mines in Zaire, including the massive Musonoi mine, are considered to be past their productive life. In the comprehensive report, published in the 1984 book, by Peter Bancroft, he says that as the malachite oxide is mined in the upper levels of the mines, there is less minerals deposits being uncovered below. If there are any deposits uncovered, the quality is not as high as that found in the upper levels. He prophetically continues to say that as mine staff and mineralogists predict, the shortages of malachite are alarming, and that there will be s shortage in malachite in the near future. That was in 1984, and today, the predictions seem to be coming true, and the mines have to be expanded so that more oxide in the upper levels of the adjacent strata can yield the high quality mineral.
Filling the void in the supply of malachite gemstones
As mentioned before, there are many places in the world where malachite can be found, but the quality is not as high as that of the mineral that is mined in Kolwezi, Zaire; however, the supply of the high quality mineral in this area is falling drastically, raising alarms in the gemstone and crafts world. However, the copper-lead-zinc deposits that are found in a Namibian region called Tsumeb may provide a solution and fill the void that has been left by the shortage in the supply of malachite; this may be a short-term solution and the world should not peg all their hopes on it. The Tsumeb mine has a lot of minerals, over 50 species, and can be likened to Aladdin’s cave, but the malachite that is mined from there is not suitable for cutters and artisans. The malachite is of high quality, but is only found in small sizes which are only suitable to specimen collectors.
As far as filling the void is concerned, Zaire still remains the sole hope for all the jewelers and artisans in the world; the production of art objects and jewelry pieces using malachite is truly being threatened by the low production of the mineral and something needs to be done to address this challenge. When it comes to the markets for malachite, those dealers who are in Europe and Asia have assured sales for jewelry and artistic crafts that are made of this mineral, and they are doing their best to outbid their competition in the United States of America; this cutthroat practice is being brought about by the shortage in the supply of the mineral.
How the malachite shortage has affected the price structure
From the middle of 1992, there was a rapid increase in the price of top grade malachite and the prices almost doubled within a very short time. In the past, the mineral would sell at about $15-$25 for every pound of malachite, and this went up to about $25-$40 per pound, and there is no relief in sight. There are firms, such as New Era, that deal exclusively in high grade malachite raw material, and their stock is completely depleted and they are looking for other sources for the high quality grades. According to Garsow, there are unscrupulous mining companies that claim that they have Grade A malachite for sale, but when the consignment comes through, they find out that it is Grade B or C; he goes on further to state that the price that he has to pay for the lower grade malachite, is what he used to pay for Grade A malachite about a year ago.
How does one know what Grade A malachite looks like? Grade A Malachite does not have a lot of pitting on the surface, and the banding is not too dramatic; it does not have any flower patters, and there are no bubbles within the rough stock. One should be cautious when buying malachite rough since some unscrupulous dealers have got into the habit of filling the large pits and gouges with an epoxy adhesive, which may fool the eye, and can only be seen when the malachite is viewed under a microscope. Grade A malachite does not need any treatment, and although it has a low value on the Mohs scale, a value of 4, it is somewhat tough, and is very shiny when it is given the final polish. This is something that Sy Arnstein, of Walter Arnstein Incorporated, based in New York can attest to. This is a mineral that makes amazing beads and cabochons in the jewelry world.
In summary, you can see that this is a mineral that was surely ignored in the past, but somehow, thanks to some far-sighted artisans, the mineral is now in high demand for both jewelry and other uses. It is the hope of the people who need this mineral that new deposits will be found, and the stone can be in abundance once again.